Some of you may have noticed we were little quieter than normal last week and the week before. This is because we have, a little over 3 months into fulfillment, hit our first set back. We spent the past week confirming that it's not a random mistake or a quick fix, and now that we're certain of the "bad news", are here to share it with you. As a quick summary, our main auger motor is not meeting spec. We've had a number of premature failures, and aren't comfortable moving forward with the level of quality (or lack thereof) that our current motors are displaying. We are therefore investigating two alternative routes forward - one is to upgrade the current geared DC motor to a more robust version, and the other is to switch the drive system to stepper, instead of geared DC, power. We're beginning to investigate these alternatives already and will include updates on this matter with every weekly update, until it has been confirmed resolved. For more details, please see the (rather lengthy) end of this update. In the meantime, we thank you all for your patience and understanding as we tackle this first obstacle! This sadly will have an effect on delivery times, largely the "First Run" units - they will be moved closer to end of summer, with the standard units falling roughly a month behind (August -> Sept). There is potential for this to slip further, as little issues always seem to create a domino effect, but as of right now we're hoping a full month is a generous amount of time to spec and endurance test a new motor. Regardless, we thank you all for your understanding with unforeseeable mishaps such as these!
Onto some better news...and there's lots of it:
First and foremost, we are extremely proud to announce that one of our co-founders, David Joyce, has been selected as a participant in this years Next Founders cohort. This program is one of Canada's leading business development programs, and will further augment our already talented team and support network with some of the best networking and education available.
We're very happy to be joining fellow 3D printing start-up Voltera as well as a host of other top-notch Canadian companies for this "once in a lifetime" opportunity. Participation in the program will give us invaluable insight into how to make our business more efficient, how to make progress more quickly and afford-ably, and most importantly how to best meet the needs of our customers...you!
That being said, fulfillment for our IGG backers is still our #1 priority by a long shot. Even one of the best accelerator programs in the world can't beat the support and contributions you've made to our success - and so our involvement in the Next Founders will not in any way interfere with our fulfillment plans. Rather, the expertise we gain from the program will be used to help us grow and develop our business into the future, so that we can continue to provide market leading products for sustainable creative development.
For more details on the program, head over to www.thenextfounders.ca or www.thenext36.ca (Next 36 is for those without an existing business, but is otherwise the parent of Next Founders).
We'll also be talking or exhibiting a few times over the next few weeks, and want to give you all a chance to come out and see ProtoCycler in action! Three key dates to watch out for in the near future are:
Wednesday, May 13th - Dennon will be speaking and exhibiting at the Avondale Alternative School's Eco Fair in Toronto, Ontario. We've always believed that education is where ProtoCycler belongs, and can't wait to see what some talented and unique young minds think of unlimited, sustainable creativity!
Saturday, May 16th - Sunday, May 17th - This is the big one. We're extremely excited to be exhibiting at Maker Faire SF Bay - now in it's 10th year!!! The original Maker Faire and still the largest in the world, we *cannot wait* to be a part of it, and in the Startup zone no less! Some other great 3D printing innovation like Structur3D 's Discov3ry paste extruder, and the Mosaic Mfg Pallete, will be there as well. If you're in the area or going to the Faire, come on by and say hi! For those attending the Friday event - we weren't informed about this until after we'd booked flights, and so sadly we'll only be there for the tail end of the day...our ETA is around 3:30 or 4 pm, PST.
Wednesday, May 20th - Dennon and Alex will again be talking, but this time for the ProjectSPACES "Drinks & Demo: Crowdfunding 101" event. We'll be showing off what ProtoCycler can do, and talking about our (amazingly awesome!) crowdfunding experience - including our current motor pitfall - along with some other great local startups like VanHawks and Alto Earbuds. If you're in the startup world yourself, or just want to see some of the awesome things coming out of Toronto, come by and say hi! We've even got discounted tickets ;)
With that, we'd like to thank you all again for your continued support and enthusiasm. We're hoping we'll have exclusively good news next week, but it means the world to us to have your dedication and understanding for when we unfortunately have to share an occasional set back.
Take care for now, and come out to one of the shows if you can make it!
-The ReDeTec team
More motor details:
We're currently using metal gear motors from a very well known supplier. We've contacted them about the pre-mature failures and they've made a real effort to work with us to identify why and how the gearboxes are failing, and what might be done to fix them. They're great! And we generally love them (the supplier), so no mention will be made of their name (though some of you may recognize the motor from the pictures below).
That being said, we're not in the business of helping reputable manufactures fix problems with their stock - we're in the business of providing the best filament recycler on the market, period. Quality and reliability are very important to us...we're a product that works, not one that needs working on. And you've all already agreed to be patient and wait a few months for our fulfillment to occur, and we don't want to push that patience. So we can't ship ProtoCycler with a component we know is prone to failure, and we can't wait an undetermined amount of time for our supplier to fix the problem on their own - we need a proven solution, and we need it yesterday!
Some more info:
We're using a geared DC motor for our extruder. DC motors are easy to control, measure and regulate, and are relatively reliable and affordable. They power most extruders on the market today, like FilaStruder, Filabot, and ExtrusionBot. The gearing comes from the fact that most electric motors spin quite fast, but with little torque, and we need slower rotation with lots of torque. Our existing (now failing) motor is a 12 V motor with a 131:1 gear ratio, resulting in 80 RPM no load speed and 250 oz-in of stall torque, at a stall current of 5 A - we gear it a little bit further after that, but not much. We also limit our motors in code to 3 A, meaning we've never pulled the full 250 oz-in our motor is rated for. It's also worth quickly outlining that our testing has involved both continuous and intermittent usage, and the two vary widely - think of a marathon and a sprint, respectively. Both are very tough, but in very different ways.
Our current motors perform almost flawlessly, other than long term wear on the gearboxes. We've seen a variety of failures at this point, all outlined in the pictures below, which is even more concerning...if it was just one component, the fix is much easier than if it's always a different method of failure. We've now seen 3 different types of failure - shaft failure, gear deformation, and gear wear.
Shaft failure occurs when one of the shafts holding the gears together snaps. We've only seen this happen once with our "output" shaft...for some reason, it's actually secured with a much smaller shaft, and the smaller shaft breaks, causing the motor to slip or freewheel, and giving a nice characteristic "click"ing sound. Gear deformation occurs when all of the material for the gear is still there...but it's bent increasingly out of shape based on the direction of travel. For us, this is actually the worst failure, as it overloads the motor significantly (instead of having it freewheel or skip). The characteristic "saw blade" shape is evidence of gear deformation. Finally, gear wear is when material is removed from the gear instead of just deformed - this results in residue around the rest of the gearbox comprised of the flaked off particles that wear off, and is sometimes evident on the actual gear if it's only worn along some of it's length (like in our case). Some pictures to help aid the description:
This is our motor, broken apart. Clockwise from right - the motor w/pinion, the gearbox, and the enclosure.
This is the pin that sometimes breaks (highlighted in red) - in this picture it's still together, but you can see how much skinnier it is than the shaft it's trying to support!
This is an example of gear deformation. note how all of the teeth are sharply angled towards a clockwise direction of rotation...
...whereas below, we have both deformation AND wear. You can see the built up particles around the warn part of the gear, evidence of wearing - but also the somewhat angled nature of the gear, evidence of deformation. In this case, the forces both bent the gear while removing material.
Last but not least, some pure gear wear. The teeth are still "straight", but you can clearly see the material removal through the middle, shinier section of the gear.
As you can see, this really isn't what we want going on inside of ProtoCycler!
The two obvious solutions that jump out are a) Simply buy a bigger, more powerful, more robust motor. While this seems like the best answer at first, bigger motors require bigger everything else - power supplies, driving electronics, etc. And they don't eliminate the problem (gearboxes wear out over time) - they simply try and hold it off for longer. The other alternative is to switch the drive system from brushed DC motor control to stepper control. Steppers have a number of advantages - there is no gearing to wear down, no brushes to wear down, and they are inherently designed for precise control at low speeds and high strengths. However, their control and operation is fundamentally different, and would require some modification to our control algorithms. We'll be examining both initially, and then focusing on whichever emerges as the winner after preliminary testing.
What does this mean for cost, delivery dates, user experience, etc etc etc?
The real honest answer is that we're not 100% sure. Our campaign prices and pre-order prices will not change, guaranteed, and we're hoping this won't have a significant effect post-fulfillment either. User experience also shouldn't change very much, as we have plenty of time during manufacturing to tweak our code algorithms for whichever motor is ultimately selected, and so Intelligent Extrusion should still work fairly flawlessly... though automatic "low pellet" detection and a few other frills might need a workaround beyond a code change to function as well. Finally, delivery dates are currently estimated to slip roughly a month for the standard units, from roughly August to (a very unofficial) September. We feel a full month of time is very generous to both spec and test a new drive motor, and deal with any other stress testing failures that occur. However, we may need to do things like re-start some parts of our UL certification, etc, which would delay things further (though not that significantly). As we mentioned above, we'll do our absolute best to keep you in the loop. And on the note of communication - if you have any comments or concerns whatsoever, please don't hesitate to e-mail us! Our customers and especially backers are always our top priority, and we value your feedback greatly.
Thank you all again for your patience and understanding, and rest assured we're doing everything we can to get back on track and exceed your expectations when ProtoCycler arrives :)